Sky and River have always lived on Island, the only world they’ve ever known. Until the day River spots a boat. Across Ocean, in a place called California, Sky is separated from River and forced to live with a grandmother she’s just met. Here the rules for survival are different. People rely on strange things like cars and cell phones. They keep secrets from one another. And without River, nothing makes sense. Sky yearns for her old life where she was strong and capable, not lost and confused. She must find River so they can return to Island, but the truth behind how they ended up there in the first place will come as the biggest shock of all.
The forest is full of secrets, and no one understands that better than Cade. Foraging, hunting, surviving— that’s all he knows. Alone for years, Cade believes he’s the sole survivor. At least, until he catches a glimpse of a beautiful stranger…
Dara expected to find natural wonders when she set off for a spring break camping trip. Instead, she discovers a primitive boy— he’s stealthy and handsome and he might be following her. Intrigued, Dara seeks him out and sets a catastrophe in motion.
Thrust back into society, Cade struggles with the realization that the life he knew was a lie. But he’s not the only one. Trying to explain life in a normal town leaves Dara questioning it.
As the media swarm and the police close in, Dara and Cade risk everything to get closer. But will the truth about Cade’s past tear them apart?
I decided to review these two books together because they both are attempting to tell the same story, that of a “wild child” taken from the only home they’ve ever known and thrust into civilization by well-meaning “rescuers.” Though they differ greatly from each other in some aspects, both Searching for Sky and Wild hit and miss many of the same targets.
Both stories begin in the wild, a place that Sky and Cade see as idyllic and natural, if full of challenges. I was impressed by the survival realism in both stories. “Icky” things like how they eat and where they poop were not sidestepped in order to present a more utopian story. The challenges they face—from finding enough to eat to fighting off wild animals—are just a part of life and not the overwhelming monster that will soon face them in the city. They follow the same basic narrative arc of Home -> Strange, New Land -> Confusion and Mayhem -> Finding One’s Own Place.
Sky is the sole voice for her story. The story is told in first person through her eyes, which keeps our view limited and filtered. We learn as she learns. She knows some of the modern world, having received a very slanted description of it from her mother, but is very much overwhelmed when she first arrives in California. Seeing through Sky’s eyes gives the prose a very soft feel. Though far from stupid, Sky lacks much of the vocabulary to make sense of her world at first. She also has had very little experience with the sum of human vice, which makes her come across as naive and gullible.
Cade, on the other hand, is the main voice for his story but not the only one. He shares the microphone with Dara, Josh, Dara’s father Sheriff Porter, and Dara’s friend Sofia. I’ll discuss them further down, since Cade is the most interesting and the most dominant voice of the group. Unlike Sky, who was mostly shielded from knowledge of our world, Cade knows too much. His parents taught him that they were the last of their kind, excepting the rangers that would wander through their camp from time to time. Though Cade is ignorant in many things, he’s surprisingly well-versed in other subjects, especially those pertaining to science, history, and the way the two connect through war.
I loved that neither story featured the stereotypical “innocent babe” wild child. Neither Sky nor Cade were Tarzan, raised by apes and completely apart from humans. Both were knowledgeable of certain aspects of our world and surprisingly (or not so surprisingly) cynical of the modern era and those living in it. Cade’s brilliance and depth of knowledge regarding biology and virology was probably the most surprising and most welcome element for me.
By experiencing our world through their eyes, I was also treated to a heavy dose of claustrophobia in both stories. Though I understood where the adults in both stories were coming from, it was stifling to live through their treatment of Sky and Cade. So many crappy, well-meaning people! Unfortunately, with both Sky and Cade, I was too distant to be truly emotionally involved. With Sky, her soft, lovely prose kept me from getting to the nitty-gritty. With Cade, the prose took on a cinematic quality. The point of view literally moved like a camera with the prose as a movie script as it jumped from character to character. Some people may enjoy this style of view, but I didn’t.
CRAPPY, WELL-MEANING PEOPLE
Speaking of those crappy people, with Sky, I felt the true weight of being controlled by people who didn’t understand. Whether it was her grandmother, her new friend Ben, her crap shrink, or even River, Sky was forever being bossed and managed by people who thought they knew better. My blood boiled when River abandoned Sky in California and again when her therapist described her as a child trapped in a sixteen-year-old body. The way people measure intelligence based on familiarity with modern contraptions is mind-bogglingly unfair.
When it comes to Cade’s story, too often our own narrators were those crappy people. Sheriff Porter plays the heavy as the strict, no-nonsense lawkeeper who believes that Cade is a criminal pulling a fast one. Rather than being kind or supportive, he treats the boy with suspicion and disdain from the start. Josh, Dara’s boyfriend, is predictably jealous and overly macho. I hated his point of view most of all. Between his hatred for Cade, his possessive feelings for Dara, and the too-close look at their exploding relationship, I was ready to get the heck out of his head. (Points to the author for adding some originality to his character, though. I wasn’t expecting such a macho dude to willingly dress up for his little cousin’s tea party, and it made me smile.) Unfortunately, leaping from Josh’s head often meant leaping into Dara’s, the Queen of Crappy Well-Meaningness. Dara, as the love interest, is Cade’s “protector,” defying her family and friends to keep him safe from the pernicious media. She “gets” him and he “gets” her almost instantly, in a way that no one else in the entire world possibly could. And if that means kidnapping him from a hospital and removing him from all forms of needed medical attention, then by golly, that’s what she’ll do!
Interestingly, though I despised almost everyone I met in Wild (or, at best, felt apathetic), Wild also had the best interpersonal dynamic, thanks to Dara’s friend Sofia. Originally presented as the typical, exuberant partygirl sidekick, Sofia is a rock for both Dara and Cade. The author easily could have made Sofia a jealous rival for Cade’s affections, and while it seemed to be trending that way originally, Sofia soon proves herself a loyal supporter and fantastic platonic BFF. To name check one of my favorite platonic pairings of all time, she is Roar to Cade’s Aria.
In contrast, the people in Searching for Sky were more palatable but inspired less loyalty on my part. Everyone did things I disagreed with (though nothing too bad), but I was hard-pressed to care. I cared for Sky and wanted to protect her, but felt little to nothing for anyone else.
For both stories, I had nitpicks regarding the believability of the stories presented. With Sky, the nitpicks are small. For the most part, the author handles her situation believably, if narrowly. A little thing that itched at me was Sky’s inability to use articles (a, the, an.) I think the choice was made so that she would appear rustic and uneducated, but she would have modeled her speech patterns after her mother and Helmut, and both were educated adults who spoke normally.
With Cade, the story just ended up being so much less than I had wanted. It was less Tarzan, more George of the Jungle as Cade struggled on Dara’s turf rather than the other way around. I also was more impatient with Cade, as he did little to endear himself to me at first. One day, I want to meet a “wild man” with a less conventional sense of beauty. Dara is pretty by society’s standards, so Cade is smitten at first sight and becomes all macho protective over her and her pretty face and golden hair. But what determines that Dara is pretty to Cade? He has lived his entire life completely detached from society. Why couldn’t Dara have had freckles or some extra weight or glasses or a crooked nose? And why must beauty make the wild man devolve into “you pretty girl, you mine” mentality?
Also, while both stories were ones I enjoyed, I found myself eyeing the other stories that crossed my path and wishing I had had those stories instead. In Sky’s case, I wanted River’s story, to see things through his slightly more mature eyes, or for Sky to expand the narrow confines of her own viewpoint. I wanted to know more of the media buzz surrounding her and to see her as others saw her. I wanted her to make female friends her own age and maybe to meet family members beyond her grandmother. The story is presented in tight focus and it suits the soft, almost fairytale prose nicely, but I kept bumping against the boundaries, wanting to peer over the fence.
In contrast, Cade’s story felt too broad. I wanted to ditch the omniscient view and settle comfortable in his head. Let me experience his hardships, his struggles, his curiosity without the intrusion of the other characters. I would also accept ditching Dara to focus on his friendship with Sofia.
I do wonder what my reading experience would have been had I read these two stories further apart (say, six months instead of one or two.) However, I think reading them as I did was actually a help to both novels, as it allowed me to weight their relative merits and faults more clearly. Searching for Sky is a gentle, softly worded look at one girl trying to piece her life back together. It’s more bedtime story than hard-hitting contemporary, though it does bite in a few places. Wild, in contrast, is more of a big picture book as it follows multiple characters through the farseeing lens of a camera. It is the MTV documentary to Searching for Sky‘s fairytale. Neither blew my socks off, but I can appreciate their distinct styles.
Points Added For (Sky): Island realism, soft prose, the grandmother’s turmoil.
Points Added For (Wild): SOFIA, the Sofia-Cade-Dara friendship, science, virology, the conceit.
Points Subtracted For (Sky): The ending, not making me care about the characters, the lack of female friends.
Points Subtracted For (Wild): The ending, the characters who make me want to stab someone, machoism, Dara.
Good For Fans Of (Sky): The Princess Academy by Shannon Hale (similar soft loveliness), cults, One True Loves.
Good For Fans Of (Wild): George of the Jungle (minus the slapstick humor), doomsdayers, insta-crushing.
Notes For Parents (Sky): Some language, kissing.
Notes For Parents (Wild): More language, kissing.
Note: I received review copies for consideration for each of these titles from their respective publishing companies.
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